March 17, 2011
LOS ANGELES - An intense second half of defense allowed USC to overcome an 11-point deficit and knock the UC Santa Barbara women's basketball team out of the Women's National Invitation Tournament with a 67-64 victory on Thursday night at the Galen Center.
The Gauchos, who received an at-large bid into the WNIT, took an 11-point lead with 14:59 to go in the game on Emilie Johnson's three-pointer. But, that's when USC turned up its defensive pressure.
The Trojans forced all eight of UCSB's 11 turnovers after that point, numerous times leading to USC fastbreaks.
USC (20-12 overall) took its first lead of the second half at 8:46 on a layup by Briana Gilbreath, coming directly off a Gaucho turnover.
From there, it was a see-saw game until the Trojans took a 67-62 lead with 4:00 to go. While UCSB held USC scoreless the rest of the way, the Trojans' defense didn't allow the Gauchos to get many good looks.
UCSB had the ball with 0:25 to go and when a designed play didn't go to plan, UCSB head coach Lindsay Gottlieb called a timeout with 0:09 left. USC didn't allow the Gauchos to get a clean look at the rim in their final play as Johnson's heave as time expired didn't hit anything.
The Gauchos finish their season at 19-12 overall but were co-Big West champs and played in the program's 14th postseason in the past 15 years.
"I'm really happy with our team's effort, but for those who are familiar with Santa Barbara basketball, it wasn't a `Rah-rah, we kept it close' in the locker room," Gottlieb said. "We felt like we did put ourselves in position to win this game. There were runs that USC made that were the difference in the game and I credit them because they can put points on the board quickly.
"They geared up their defense a bit in the second half and forced some turnovers and they got themselves to the free throw line, played well in transition and turned some tips and steals into scores."
As a team UCSB seemed to dominate Thursday's game, outshooting USC (41.3% to 37.1%) and outrebounding them (41-35). However, the Trojans were 16 of 21 from the free throw line - including 13 of 15 in the second half - while UCSB was just 7-for-9 from the line for the game.
Mekia Valentine, playing in her final game as a Gaucho, had nine points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots. She finishes the season averaging a double-double, becoming the first Gaucho since Erika Kienast in 1991-92 to accomplish the feat.